The woozy, gliding strings of "From The Sea/It Looms" recall how Leon Vynehall's 2014 work Music for the Uninvited
opened, yet there's a distinctly different flavor to the first track on his new record. "Inside the Deku Tree" functioned almost as a silhouette of the rest of the album, an amuse-bouche
to whet the listener's appetite before the beefy house cuts. Yet on Nothing is Still
, the opening track signals immediately a more contemplative and subtle approach reflecting the themes Vynehall sets out to establish--ancestry, immigration, the American Dream, and remembrance. While drawing from a far more diverse range of genres than his previous work (including downtempo, ambient, and jazz), the album serves as a poignant and captivating tribute to his grandparents who moved from England to the United States.
Despite its being accompanied by a novella and short film, the album is vivid and accomplished as a standalone piece of work. Vynehall's inclusion of a ten-piece orchestra doesn't muddle his flair for elegance and charm; in fact, the supplemental instrumentation often adds a layer of yearning quite befitting of the subject matter. "Movements (Chapter III)" flows gracefully with its inclusion of a meditative saxophone, anchored by upright bass and jazzy piano. Appearing once more on "Drinking it in Again," Vynehall isn't afraid to use his orchestra to convey a sense of richness. He used the same feelings of grandeur to his advantage on previous works, yet here it's balanced by more subdued moments. Successive tracks "Birds on the Tarmac (Footnote III)" and "Julia (Footnote IV)" are brief yet calculated, purposefully advancing the narrative of the album while exhibiting his skill at crafting slick yet ear-catching ambient music. The latter couples a warped spoken backdrop with a sparkling synth melody before mysteriously fading into a whispery synth. It feels very cinematic and gives the listener a sense of just how clever Vynehall is at structuring his tracks.
Not only is he talented at arranging individual songs, but also the work as a whole. Much like Vynehall intended, Nothing is Still
ebbs and flows between splendor and mutedness, its ups and downs mimicking the journey for assimilation in a new country. The trio of songs closing the record in particular demonstrate his deft touch, concluding the emotional and musical emphatically. "English Oak (Chapter VII)" evolves into a shimmering house track, complemented by perhaps the most gorgeous song on the record, "Ice Cream (Chapter VIII)." Functioning as a sort of sentimental denouement, the synth stabs and bird calls feel like a optimistic ending to the tale. The closer, a quick footnote, bottles up wistful longing speckled throughout the album in two minutes with pensive piano chords and delicate violin.
Despite its short runtime, Nothing is Still
encapsulates the feeling of a lifelong journey with its finesse, variety, and emotion. Vynehall's progression as an artist is clear as he skillfully navigates his way through numerous genres, entwining them in a work that feels methodical and complete. Vynehall declared that the album was created essentially his creating his own soundtrack--an evident goal, due to how evocative it feels. It's a story fully realized through music, as stimulating and colorful as a film, and an astonishing step forward as Leon Vynehall diversifies his musical template.